Some of the top competitors in Saturday’s (Sept. 22) Whistler Spirit Run will have Frank Reynolds on their minds in an event that pays tribute to the late, legendary track and field coach from Vancouver.
The event is now in its fifth year at Whistler Olympic Park, growing each year out of Reynolds’s vision to hold a cross-country race targeting runners of all ability levels in the Sea to Sky corridor.
“Frank was always someone who would give you the time of day — it didn’t matter what type of athlete you were, what age you were, what sex you were or what ability,” said Kevin O’Connor, who will be back to defend his men’s eight-kilometre title from 2011. “There are lots of coaches who like to keep their secrets to their own running crew and don’t want to divulge too much. But Frank was always willing to stand there and chat with you or answer any question you had for him.”
It’s that spirit of inclusiveness that Reynolds became known for prior to his death in 2006 that is part of the Whistler Spirit Run’s foundation.
“It really just started as a small, little vision from a small group of us that wanted to carry forward an idea from Frank Reynolds,” recalled Peter Diemer, race committee president. “His vision was to have some sort of real, competitive run or festival in a place close to home… giving athletes — be it competitive athletes, families, schools, clubs — the opportunity to compete.
“We’re glad we’re now going into our fifth year.”
And the Whistler Spirit Run truly does give everyone a chance to run, with races targeting all ability levels. Following the men’s eight-km race and women’s six-km race that will kick off the schedule on Saturday, the event will hold runs for school students of all ages, a family fun run and a relay.
Diemer said it’s looking as though local participation will be over and above previous editions of the event.
“One of the big things that we’ve really tried to focus on this year is raising the awareness in the Pemberton-Whistler-Squamish corridor,” said Diemer. “We’ve found, historically, that we’ve had a good amount of people coming up from the Lower Mainland… but people just weren’t really aware of it (in the Sea to Sky) and what it presents. The numbers, so far in the early registration, appear that we’re heading towards larger participation from the corridor.”
Guelph, Ont.’s Chris Winter, who nearly qualified for the Olympics in men’s steeplechase this year, was coached by Reynolds growing up and will be in the field on Saturday. With Winter scheduled to be on hand Saturday, O’Connor is already counting himself out of top spot.
“I can tell you right now, I won’t be winning it again,” he laughed. “To be honest, I won’t even give (Winter) a run for his money.”
Regardless of finish position, O’Connor is sure to enjoy the “true cross-country course” that Whistler Olympic Park has to offer.
“I come from England and grew up on cross-country, and (courses) are full of mud, water, dykes, tree roots, everything. A lot of them over here are called cross-country routes, but they’re more like trail races,” he said. “I think the Whistler one is as true to cross-country as you’re going to find… that’s why I like the course and am trying to get as many of my clubmates to come up as I can.
“If you want to run a proper cross-country course, this is where you should come and do it.”
Races start Saturday at 11 a.m. Registration remains open at www.whistlerspiritrun.com until midnight Thursday (Sept. 20), but will be available on race day as well. Visit the website for full event details.